Crossfit Nutrition & Workout Recovery Blog | Kill Cliff

  • Shortcut to Six-Pack Abs: 7 Exercise Hacks You Need to Know

    Who doesn’t want six-pack abs? For most of us, they’re the visual representation of the pinnacle of fitness and - let’s be honest - sex appeal. And yet they seem so difficult to attain. What’s the secret? What’s the path to sweet six-pack success?

    Well, I’m not going to BS you. It takes hard work, first of all. It takes getting your ass to the gym, and it takes willpower to not shove a bunch of crap food in your face when you’re done.

    But you’ve probably figured that already. You’ve worked yourself near to death in the gym, you’ve been successful in losing weight and getting strong and fit, but those six-pack abs are still oh-so-elusive.

    If you’ve taken the major steps towards six-pack abs, little tweaks might be all you need to hack your way towards a rocking core. Here are seven exercise “hacks” that’ll help you reach that next level and unlock your coveted six-pack abs:

    Hack #1 - Get Your Abs Involved

    Netting a six-pack isn’t all about working your abs directly. In fact, one of the major keys to unlocking the potential of your abs is getting them involved in everything you do.

    This applies especially to the gym. Doing squats? Flex your abs in each rep. Deadlifts? Same thing.

    The reasoning behind this is two-fold. First of all, your core muscles (which include your abs, your obliques, and your diaphragm) are absolutely critical to the stability of your spine. Actively engaging those muscles during exercise will help you stay stable and strong, reducing your chances of injury and keeping you strong through the entire exercise.

    Second, actively engaging your abs and core during these exercises helps strengthen all of those muscles I mentioned earlier - and that’s key to getting a great six-pack.

    So how do you do it? Some people have a tendency to suck their abs in - don’t do that. This actually weakens your core, making you more vulnerable to injury. Instead, flex your abs. Think about how your abs engage when you laugh or cough, and do that consciously. You can even place your hands on your stomach and intentionally laugh to get a sense of what it feels like.

    Plus, everyone can use more laughter in their life, right?

    Make a conscious effort to engage those abdominal muscles during any exercise that requires balance and stability (basically, pretty much every exercise that involves you standing on your feet). You’ll be on your way to a six-pack while also protecting yourself from injury. It’s a win-win.

    Hack #2 - Perfection in Posture

    There are a ton of benefits to this technological age, but one major drawback to our reliance on new tech tools is that we’re all sitting a whole lot more. That has an effect on your posture, as it’s very easy to slouch forward when sitting for long hours - especially if you spend those hours working at a computer.

    When you slouch like this, everything to dips forward - making even strong and lean abs sag a bit. But not only is good posture associated with stronger abs, it also plays into perceptions of your confidence, attractiveness, and authority. And let’s not ignore that better posture protects you from injury.

    So what is proper posture? Well, it changes based on whether you’re standing or sitting. Let’s break it down:

    When sitting…

    • Keep your feet on the floor if possible, and don’t cross your legs
    • Keep your ankles in front of your knees
    • Your knees should be in line with your hips or below them
    • When possible, use a chair with arm rests so that you can keep your forearms parallel to the ground

    When standing…

    • Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart
    • Keep your shoulders back, standing tall
    • Tuck your abs in (don’t suck them in - slightly flex them)
    • Keep your head straight, as if you could draw a vertical line from ears to shoulders to hips to knees

    These recommendations are just for sitting and standing still, but when walking, the same principles of proper standing apply. It all boils down to standing tall and confident. The minutiae of posture will fall into place if you just focus on that.

    Hack #3 - Work It from All Angles

    Now, let’s get into some actual ab exercises and workouts... When it comes to getting a great six-pack, crunches alone just aren’t going to cut it. That’s because really making those abs pop comes down to more than just the surface-level front muscles.

    Your entire core is involved in getting a sexy six-pack. You have your obliques - or “side abs” - and the transverse abdominis, a layer of muscle running behind the “six-pack” muscles. Your hips and lower back are also heavily involved in the strength and stability of your entire midsection.

    What does all that matter? Basically, it means you’ll need a variety of exercises that work your core from different angles and through different planes of motion to score the Baywatch abs of your dreams.

    Crunches do have a time and a place, as they’re a great isolator of your main layer of abdominal muscles. But you’ll also want to work in twists and rotation moves that hit your obliques, in addition to working your abs through different types of motion. Lower back exercises - from deadlifts to back extensions - are also a big help.

    Whenever possible, combine different types of movements as well. Spend some time on the floor with crunches and hip raises, get on your feet for twists and side-to-side moves, and then get off your feet for hanging leg raises and twists. Working a wide variety of core exercises will help get that six-pack to finally pop.

    Hack #4 - To Move, or Not to Move?

    Crunches, full-body twists and other exercises are great, but movement alone isn’t the key to great abs. There are also plenty of effective ab exercises that don’t involve much movement at all. Planks, which involve holding a single position for a set time, are an extremely effective exercise for your abs - especially the transverse abdominis.

    Exercises where you move are called isotonic exercises, while those that are all about holding a position are called isometric. Use both in your workout to build stability and strength, and to ensure you hit all the different muscles that make up your core.

    You don’t just have to use planks (or side planks) either. You can work isometric “squeezes” into different exercises. Doing hanging leg raises? Every other rep, hold your position at the top of the movement, holding it as long as you can before lowering your legs. With crunches and Russian twists, you can do the same, holding at the top, or most “flexed” part of the movement for five to ten seconds, and then lowering back down.

    Hack #5 - You Can Rest When You’re Out of the Gym

    “You can sleep when you’re dead!”

    Ever heard that phrase? Well, you can use a similar strategy when training your abs: you can take those big rest periods once you leave the gym.

    A major key to training abs and getting the most out of your core workouts is taking short rest periods. These come in two forms - rest between exercises and rest between sets. Let’s create a sample ab workout that puts this concept into action:

    Start with four exercises, back to back:

    • A: Bicycle crunches - 30 seconds
    • B: Russian twists - 10 reps per side
    • C: Hanging leg raises - 8 reps
    • D: Plank - 45 seconds

    Work in the following rest periods:

    • 15 seconds between exercises
    • 30-60 seconds between sets (between exercises D and A)

    Basically, between exercise A and B, you rest 15 seconds; same between B and C, and between C and D. Then, once you finish D, you rest for up to a minute and start over at A. Repeat the whole circuit 2-4 times.

    These short rest periods are integral to getting the most out of your abs. As I said earlier, your core muscles are postural muscles - key components of posture, balance, and stability. They’re frequently used even when you aren’t actively engaging them and, as a result, they recover quickly.

    Take advantage of that quick recovery time and work your abs hard with short rest periods, a variety of exercises, and multiple sets. Don’t settle for a few sets of crunches at the end of your workout. Work your abs and core just as hard as you do every other muscle group.

    Hack #6 - Eliminate the Middleman

    One thing you might notice as you get closer to that coveted six-pack is that you tend to get the top “four-pack” before anything else. The lower abs just don’t want to cooperate.

    There are some exercises that put a greater emphasis on your lower abs, like hanging leg raises, lying leg raises, and hip thrusts. But even if you’re doing a ton of them, you still might not be getting the last portion of your six-pack. Why is that?

    Well, you may have a middleman getting in the way of your abs actually being activated and engaged. That middleman - technically, middlemen - are your hip flexors. These muscles are the key to raising your legs and bending at the waist - two major movements involved in ab exercises.

    If you’re working your abs early in your workout, your hip flexors may be blocking the way for your abs and core to get the most out of your workout. Here’s how to cut out the middle-man:

    • Start your workout by stretching your hip flexors. Use stretches like the seated butterfly and hip bridges to engage your hip flexors and prime them for activity.
    • Then, work your hip flexors with exercises like lunges, squats, and deadlifts. Do those early in your workout, after stretching, and you’ll be able to exhaust your hip flexors early.
    • Work your abs near the end of the workout. With your hip flexors engaged and exhausted, many of your core exercises will be more challenging, but you’ll also actually engage your core and lower abs more effectively - training the muscles you want instead of the middlemen.

    Keep these tips in mind, and you should start seeing those lower abs pop into definition, finally filling out your four-pack into a six-pack.

    Hack #7 - Exhale Completely… and Then Exhale Again

    It sounds crazy, but one final aspect of your ab and core training you may be falling short on without even realizing it is breathing. I mean, we’re all pretty much pros at breathing, right? How could something so simple be messing up our ab workouts?

    While breathing is important for all exercises, it might be the most important for your ab exercises. Since your abdominal muscles are located in front of your diaphragm, lungs, and rib cage, your breathing has a huge impact on the way your abdominal muscles contract during exercise.

    So, how should you breathe during ab workouts? Let’s break it down:

    • Exhale at the start of each rep
    • Exhale throughout the rep, but breathe out forcefully, as much as possible
    • At the “top” or most contracted portion of the rep, hold for a second, and breathe out even if you think there’s no air left in your lungs
    • Lower back down to your starting position, inhaling as you go

    This type of breathing serves two purposes. First of all, it protects you from injury by keeping your rib cage down and protecting your spine (an important function of your core muscles).

    But it also helps activate your abdominal muscles better. Since these muscles sit in front of your diaphragm, having a full tank of air when trying to contract results in your stomach pushing out - limiting the amount of engagement you’ll get out of your abs. The more you exhale, the less air there is behind your abs, letting them flex and contract more completely.

    So there you have it - seven high-level tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts to give you the edge you need to attain that sexy six-pack. Don’t just use one or two of them - take advantage of the entire set. From rest periods to exercise variety to breathing to posture, all of these strategies work together with your diet and exercise plan to get you the abs you’ve always wanted, faster than you ever thought possible.

    Put these strategies to the test, and then let me know: what’s been most helpful for you in pushing your abs to the next level? Leave a comment below with your thoughts and recommendations:

    Images: Wikimedia CommonsFlickrWikimedia Commons, Flickr

  • 10 Protein Shake Recipes That Won’t Make You Want to Hurl

    kc1I’m probably sounding like a broken record here, but protein plays a huge role in your ability to recover from a workout. Studies frequently show that protein is necessary for both building and maintaining muscle, with daily recommendations from CrossFit HQ suggesting that you consume roughly 30% of your daily calories in the form of protein (or, between ½ to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight).

    Clearly, it’s important to stay on top of your protein intake, and a great way to do that is through the use of supplemental protein powders. Whey protein (one of the most common forms of protein powder) has been shown to have an exceptionally effective impact post-workout.

    The thing is, protein supplements are all about giving you an edge in your workout or in your recovery.

    They’re all about performance.

    They don’t necessarily cater to a refined palate.

    It’s true, supplement companies aren’t frequently in the “taste good” business. Luckily for you, there are tons of awesome ways to make your protein shake taste great. If you don’t have a great-tasting protein bar on hand, the following ten recipes will make your post-workout shake a joy for your taste buds.

    1. Berry Breeze Protein Shake

    One of the best ways to add flavor to the distasteful in a healthy way is to use fruit. Berries are particularly healthy, from their abundant amounts of antioxidants (blueberries especially), to their high fiber content (raspberries have some of the highest fiber content out of all fruits) and their massive varieties of vitamins and minerals. They’re also some of the lowest glycemic index fruits around for all you Paleo-eating cavemen out there.

    And, as if all that wasn’t enough, they taste great!

    Take advantage of the plethora of berries out there in a protein shake or smoothie. Here’s a great recipe with tons of room for personalizing to your own tastes:



      • 1 scoop protein powder (flavor of your choice)
      • 2 ice cubes
      • 1 cup milk or water
      • 1 cup mixed berries (choose from blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries)

    2. Chocolate-Banana Protein Shake

    Love chocolate? Love bananas? Then you’ll definitely love this protein-packed combo. Bananas are renowned for their potassium (important for heart and muscle function), as well as for being great sources of vitamin C and fiber.



      • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
      • 1 large banana
      • 2 ice cubes
      • 1 ½ cups milk or water

    3. Spiced Green Tea Protein Smoothie

    Green tea is known for its ability to provide energy, but did you know that it also helps lower blood pressure and manage blood sugar? Combine that with spices like cinnamon (which helps facilitate your metabolism) and you’ve got a smoothie that gives you the protein needed to recover from a workout, while still keeping your healthy and energized.

    A quick note about pears… Much of the nutrients are found in the skin, so don’t peel your pear for the best nutritional value.



      • 1 scoop protein powder (flavor of your choice)
      • ¾ cup of green tea, chilled
      • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon
      • 1 teaspoon honey
      • 1 small pear, cut into pieces (skin on)
      • 2 ice cubes
      • 1 cup milk or water

    Because of the inclusion of green tea, this one will take a little longer to prepare (thanks to the extra brewing and chilling steps. But trust me, the taste is worth it. All it takes is a little advance planning to enjoy this tasty treat.

    4. Leafy Greens Protein Shake

    kc2We all know green veggies are fantastic for your health, so why not kill two birds with one stone and add them to your protein shake?

    Of course, lettuce and kale and broccoli aren’t exactly known for their great taste. Here’s a way to get the best of both worlds.



      • ½ cup chopped kale
      • ½ cup diced broccoli
      • 1 scoop protein powder (preferably vanilla)
      • ½ cup vanilla Greek yogurt
      • 1 teaspoon honey (or an equivalent amount of the artificial sweetener of your choice)
      • 1 cup milk or water

    5. Citrus Splash Protein Shake

    Oranges and mangos are known for their high vitamin C content, and their citrusy flavor is just delightful. It’s also a powerful taste, helping to overcome the flavor of less-than-appetizing protein powders.



      • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
      • 1 orange, peeled and sliced
      • 1 mango, peeled and sliced
      • 1 cup milk or water
      • 2 ice cubes

    6. Nutty Banana Protein Shake

    Nuts are great sources of healthy fats and protein, both of which are fantastic for helping lower your blood pressure, improve your overall heart health, and even boost your brain function. They’re also Paleo-approved, and when added to a protein shake, give you a deliciously nutritious combo.



      • 1 scoop protein powder (flavor of your choice)
      • 1 cup chopped nuts (choose from walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, and pecans)
      • 1 large banana
      • 1 ½ cup milk or water
      • 2 ice cubes
      • 1 teaspoon honey (or an equivalent amount of the artificial sweetener of your choice)
      • ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

    If you have a food processor, run the nuts through for 30 seconds first. If not, chop them by hand as small as you can. Extra servings of nuts can be chopped ahead of time and stored in your freezer for up to three months.

    7. The “Classic” Protein Smoothie

    This “classic” smoothie is the simple combination of strawberries and bananas. Together, these fruits pack a powerful punch of vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals. Blend them together with your favorite protein powder supplement, and you’ve got a fantastic combination that’s packed with great taste.



      • 1 scoop protein powder
      • 1 cup strawberries (halved)
      • 1 large banana
      • 1 ½ cup milk or water
      • 2 ice cubes

    Because this shake falls a bit higher on the glycemic index, save it for a post-workout treat when your muscles are primed and ready to use as much of the incoming sugars as possible.

    8. Summer Sun Protein Smoothie

    kc3In homage to the warmer weather, give your protein shake or smoothie a distinct summer flair by grabbing some watermelon and grapefruit. Watermelon, aside from its great taste and ample amounts of vitamin C, is also high in the amino acid citrulline, which helps facilitate blood flow, and, in some cases, has been shown to block accumulation of fat in fat cells.

    Grapefruit is also crazy high in vitamin C, and is very similar in nutritional content to oranges. There’s a reason dieters have sweared by grapefruit for years!



      • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
      • ¾ cup watermelon, chopped
      • ¾ cup grapefruit, sliced
      • 1 cup water
      • 2 ice cubes
      • 1 teaspoon honey

    9. Taste of the Orchard Protein Shake

    Do you ever get a craving for apples? Maybe you’ve been to an apple orchard, maybe not - but it really is a unique experience. Apples picked straight off the tree have their own “flavor,” you could say - and now, you can recreate that flavor in your protein shake.

    Apples, like pears, contain many of their nutrients in the skin, so don’t peel them if you want the best effects - like their major impact on lowering blood cholesterol and improving heart health.



      • 1 scoop protein powder
      • 1 ½ medium-large apples, cored and sliced
      • 2 teaspoons honey (or an equivalent amount of the artificial sweetener of your choice)
      • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
      • 1 cup milk or water
      • 2 ice cubes

    10. Tropical Island Protein Shake

    People talk a lot about retreating to their own tropical island, calling up the image of a paradise far away from civilization. And while that may not be within your reach (if it was, you’d probably already be there!), you can get that same feeling by blending your protein shake with the right combination of fruits.

    Pineapples, a key ingredient in this recipe, are packed with vitamin C, but also a helpful little mineral called manganese. This micronutrient has a big impact on bone health and structure - traits normally only credited to calcium. Speaking of which, manganese also helps boost absorption of calcium, so if you’re looking for a bone-strengthening x-factor, pineapples are the surprise solution.



      • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
      • ½ cup pineapple, chopped
      • ½ medium orange, peeled and sliced
      • ½ medium mango, peeled and sliced
      • ¼ berries of your choice
      • ½ medium banana
      • 1 ½ cups milk or water
      • 1 tablespoon coconut milk
      • 1 teaspoon honey (or an equivalent amount of the artificial sweetener of your choice)
      • 2 ice cubes

    There you have it - ten delicious recipes to make your protein shake or smoothie appetizing. Keep in mind, though, that experimentation is absolutely encouraged! These recipes are very customizable, so try varying the amount of water or milk you include for texture, choose your favorite flavor and brand of protein powder, and mix and match different fruits within the same recipe.

    Explore your options. Try each of these recipes, tweak them, play with them, and figure out what you enjoy the most. There’s no one-size-fits-all here. Find your favorites and make the most of them.

    Taking in adequate protein is a critical part of your post-workout recovery. Don’t let bland-tasting protein powders keep you from getting what you need. Take advantage of these recipes and work towards discovering the one that’s right for you.

    Let us know below - what are your favorite shake and smoothie recipes for post-workout nutrition? We’d love to hear from you!


    Images: Flickr, Flickr, Flickr

  • Straight Talk on Supplements: Separating the BS From the Beneficial


    Supplements are a massive, billion-dollar industry that’s constantly growing. And for good reason - supplements can help push you past plateaus in your workouts, as well as keep you focused and alert when you’re having an off day.

    The thing is… there’s so much out there! There are so many brands, so many flavors, so many types, so many sizes, and so many recommendations. How can you tell what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s straight up BS when it comes to supplements?

    That’s what I’m here for. I’ll help you cut through all the nonsense floating around out there on supplements and get you set up with recommendations on what’s really worth pursuing and what you should avoid at all costs.

    Because, let’s be real here - there are some supplements out there that you really should avoid.

    So Much Variety

    For starters, let’s run down the list of the most notable fitness-related supplement categories:

    • Protein: Usually taken in the form of a powder, used often in shakes, smoothies or bars, protein will help your muscles recover faster post-workout.
    • Branch chain amino acids (BCAAs): Specific amino acids, often taken in capsule form (sometimes as a powder), that are used to provide focus and prevent muscle breakdown during exercise.
    • Beta-alanine: Another amino acid that helps reduce exercise-induced fatigue and improves your capacity for anaerobic exercise.
    • Creatine monohydrate: Typically taken in powder form and used to help produce ATP (your muscles’ energy source).
    • Glutamine: A common amino acid that transforms glucose into energy (generally taken in powder form).
    • Human growth hormone (HGH): Most often used medicinally with a purpose of helping to offset aging (comes in many forms).

    If you know a bit about supplements, it should be clear to you that one of these things is not like the others.

    kc2It’s human growth hormone. HGH has important medicinal uses, but its place as a casual workout/fitness supplement is definitely not advisable. There are simply too many potential side effects that come along with HGH supplements when there’s no medical need for them, including an increased risk of:

    • Carpal tunnel syndrome
    • High blood pressure
    • Diabetes
    • In some instances, cancer

    Part of the reason for all of these negative side-effects is that non-medically prescribed HGH supplements aren’t regulated, so you don’t really know what you’re taking. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take my supplements cancer-free, please and thank you.

    As for the other supplements on my earlier list, they all serve different, yet important, purposes. Protein powders are great for your post-workout nutrition, as protein is an essential ingredient for rebuilding your sore muscles in recovery. As mentioned in my article on pre- and post-workout nutrition, start with a daily protein intake of 0.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and increase up to 1.2-1.5 grams as needed, based on your personal physiology and exercise objectives.

    BCAAs, on the other hand, are commonly taken pre-workout, as they help promote focus and alertness, and also help prevent the breakdown of muscles. Amino acid supplements have been studied extensively in their effectiveness as pre-workout supplements, and the results consistently show a positive impact in terms of the long-term strength gains associated with being able to lift more.

    The other amino acid on our list, beta-alanine, has been extensively studied in more than 23 exercise tests and discovered to reduce exercise-induced fatigue by limiting the amount of the dipeptide carnosine that’s stored in the muscles. It’s best taken as a pre-workout supplement, with clinically effective doses ranging from 2.6 to 6.4 grams a day.

    Next up comes creatine monohydrate, a supplement that’s been the subject of lots of debate in the fitness industry. In supplement form, it’s been shown to have some undesirable side effects, such as muscle cramping and irregular heartbeats. The way I see it, if there’s one thing you need during a workout, it’s a reliable heartbeat!

    There’s also the argument made that, since you naturally produce small amounts of creatine and get it from your diet if you eat meat and fish, that supplementation is unnecessary (making your risks of the side effects described above unnecessary as well).

    kc3On the flip side, the side effects of creatine are less severe than those attributed to many other supplements, and it’s worth noting that these side effects haven’t yet been proven to be a direct result of taking supplemental creatine. At the same time, rigorous scientific studies suggest that the compound can be used effectively to build muscle, improve anaerobic endurance and reduce soreness from exercise.

    Clearly, no one knows for certain, so maybe just put supplemental creatine on the back-burner for now. Unless you have kidney disease (in that case, stay away!). For all other users, there’s minimal risk associated with a loading period of 20 grams per day for 5-7 days and a maintenance dose of 5 grams a day after that. Give it a try if you’re interested, but discontinue usage if you experience side effects that outweigh the supplement’s benefits.

    Finally, glutamine rounds out my list of main fitness supplements as a great post-workout complement to your protein powder. Your body’s natural glutamine stores are depleted from intense workouts, and research has shown glutamine supplements have beneficial effects post-workout when it comes to dealing with the stress of regular, prolonged exercise and boosting your immune system.

    So basically, you can recover from your workout more efficiently while fighting off sickness. How’s that for Double Awesomeness?

    That covers the general types of supplements you’ll want to use or avoid, but how do you know whether or not individual products are safe? How do you know they’re healthy? Tackling this tricky territory requires an informed approach.

    My Protein Shake Has What in it?

    I mentioned earlier that HGH supplements are unregulated, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that no fitness supplement is regulated by the FDA or other governmental body.

    Hmmm… Sounds sketchy, right?

    What this means is that you have to do your own “regulating.” And the biggest thing you need to watch out for are certain ingredients, usually called “filler ingredients.” Why? Because, well, they’re just taking up space - and they aren’t doing your body any favors in the process.

    Here are the major things to watch out for on the ingredients list of any supplement:

    • Hydrogenated oils: Look out for any oils labeled “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.” These highly processed oils contribute to a number of heart problems, encourage strokes, block absorption of essential fatty acids, and mess with your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. Definitely not something you want floating around in your protein shake.
    • Magnesium stearate: Magnesium stearate ends up in your supplements because it makes the ingredients easier to process through manufacturing equipment. Yup, even though “magnesium” is in the name, it has no nutrition value at all, and regular consumption of it has been shown to line your intestines with a film that can block your ability to absorb nutrients. Seems a bit counterintuitive to have something like that in a nutrition supplement, am I right?
    • Titanium dioxide: Titanium dioxide is a pigment used in many cosmetic products, but it’s been officially classified a “Group 2B Carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). So basically, it’s officially been cited as a cancer risk. That’s a pretty clear warning sign to avoid if you see it on the ingredients list of your supplements.

    Most of these filler ingredients end up in your supplements simply because they make processing easier and cheaper - not because they add nutritional value to your supplements. Protect yourself. While you don’t need to go whole-hog “100% natural” to benefit from proper supplementation, it is important to know what you’re putting into your body and why.

    Know Who to Trust

    I’ve covered the main ingredient warning signs (which you should take as bright flashing lights that scream “Run!”), but what about other signs that show a supplement’s quality?

    Just because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements doesn’t mean there aren’t others willing to tackle the job for them. In fact, there are a number of third-party supplement certification organizations. These organizations allow supplement producers to run their product through a number of tests that look for harmful ingredients - including fillers, like the big three I talked about above - as well as investigating the overall nutritional quality of the product.

    If a supplement passes the test, they get a seal for their product packaging to show who they’re certified by. There are a number of these companies, but some of the most trustworthy are:

    Check out any of their websites to see a full run-down of their testing process (like this quick rundown of Informed Choice’s program).

    Navigating the Supplement Waters

    Designing the right supplement routine can be a daunting task, but following these basic principles should help guide your way. Remember, you’ve only got one body - it’s up to you to do your due diligence to be sure you’re treating it properly. Always check ingredients lists, and keep an eye out for seals of approval from trusted nutrition supplement certifiers. Your health and your performance are worth it.

    What supplements do you use before, during and after your workouts? Share your favorites in the comments below!


    Images: Flickr, Flickr, Flickr


  • Your Complete Guide to Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition


    Working out is hard. If you want the best results, you have to push yourself to limits you didn’t know you had, and strive to do better and better each time.

    It takes a toll on your body.

    That’s why it’s important to pair an awesome workout plan with an amazing nutrition plan. What you eat is always important, but when you’re hitting it hard in the gym, your nutrition plan before and after your workout might be the most important part of what you eat each day.

    From supplements to real food, from what to eat to when to eat, here’s your complete guide to pre- and post-workout nutrition.

    Timing is Everything

    When you eat goes beyond “before and after my workout.” The key term here is nutrient timing - the specific windows around your workout when you’ll get the most out of what you eat.

    This is important for two reasons:

    1. Fueling your body. You need energy and focus during a workout, and your muscles need to be able to withstand the exertion you place upon them.
    2. Helping your body recover. If you can’t recover from an intense workout, don’t expect to be able to push it hard the next time you’re in the gym.

    Nutrient timing has been debated by fitness professionals ad nauseum, and for good reason. It’s an incredibly important aspect of pre- and post-workout nutrition.

    kc2As they say: “timing is everything.”

    Your body is primed to make the most of the food you put in it at certain times before and after a workout. One commonly-suggested window for timing your pre- and post-workout meals is “one hour before and after a workout.”

    While that’s a good recommendation, let’s get more specific. If you eat smaller meals along with supplements around your workouts, studies indicate an optimal window of 3-4 hours. What does that mean?

    Let’s say you exercise after work and have your pre-workout meal at 5:00 PM. In this case, you’ll want to have your post-workout meal no later than 9:00 PM - four hours after your pre-workout meal. The 3-4 hour window falls from your pre-workout meal to post-workout meal.

    So, of course, the “one hour before and after a workout” window still works, but this larger window gives you more leeway and freedom around how you go about your pre- and post-workout meals. If your workout is only thirty minutes long, you’ve got tons of time before and after your workout. On the other hand, if you’re going for an hour or more, you’ll have to be more aware of the clock.

    If you tend to eat fewer, larger meals, that 3-4 hour window can increase to a 5-6 hour window. Let’s say you work out after a big lunch at 12:00 PM. In this instance, you could wait to eat again until 6:00 PM and still get the full benefit of your post-workout meal.

    Here are some more examples of how this optimal window looks in action:

    • You workout at 5:00 AM, so you eat a light breakfast at 4:00 AM and then a small post-workout meal at 8:00 AM (fitting into the 3-4 hour window)
    • You’ve scheduled a noon workout on a Saturday, so you have a big lunch at 10:30 AM, work out at noon, and then have another full meal again at 3:30 PM (5 hours later, fitting into the larger window for big meals)
    • You’re a night owl, and work out at 10:00 PM. You don’t want to eat huge meals before bed, so you have a quick carb-based snack at 9:30 PM, workout, and then grab a protein bar at 11:30 PM. Your meals work inside the 3-4 hour window as well - it’s not as if you have to wait four hours to have your post-workout meal if you don’t want to.

    The beauty of the 3-4 or 5-6 window is that you can plan around the kind of meal you’re having, not just around these recommended intervals. If you like to eat big before and after a workout, you’ve got more freedom in the way you can time these meals and still get the maximum benefit. Or, if you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, smoothies and protein bars work great as smaller pre- and post-workout meals.

    Nutrient timing has been proven effective, allowing you to gain muscle and strength faster than just “winging it.” When you eat is important to ensure your body gets the most out of what you’re putting in it.

    Of course, timing isn’t everything (despite what the old saying claims), and that’s where the rest of this guide comes in. It’s time to talk about what to eat before and after your workout.

    Time to Get Energized!

    So what’s the pre-workout meal all about? It’s about energy. Eating before your workout should be entirely focused on fueling up and prepping your body to crush an awesome workout. This means you need a different meal and supplement plan pre-workout than you do post-workout.

    kc3The consensus seems to be that caffeine and amino acids are a necessity for improving energy and performance. Caffeine gets a bad rap, but it’s actually good for you in modest amounts. With many studies looking at the effects of caffeine on workout performance, the encouraging results of this research lends credence to the classic tip of having an espresso or two before a workout.

    Amino acids are another necessity, as they help prevent the breakdown of muscles during exercise. This lets you workout longer and, as a result, get more out of your workout.

    Studies on the pre-workout use of caffeine and amino acids show a 10% increase in participants’ aerobic capacity (the maximum amount of oxygen your body has access to during exercise).

    And that’s all pretty impressive, but what does it mean for you?

    An increase of 10% aerobic capacity helps you run farther and faster, and to lift heavier weights longer. That could mean burning an extra 200-300 calories per week from your cardio workouts alone. As an added bonus, on top of burning calories, this extra endurance can help you build muscle and get stronger faster.

    Rest and Recover

    So you’ve had your pre-workout meal, you’ve hit the gym, and worked as hard as you can - now it’s time for that sweet post-workout meal. The post-workout meal is all about recovery, helping you to reap the rewards from your past workout and to get your muscles ready for the next one.

    kc4In order to effectively recover from a workout, you need amino acids and healthy carbs. But you also need the “p” word: protein.

    If you have time for a sit-down meal, cook up some eggs or chicken breast, both of which are great sources of protein. Or, if you’re recovering on the go, try protein bars and shakes along with your Kill Cliff. Greek yogurt serves as a great protein-filled on-the-go snack that can be eaten on its own or mixed into smoothies and shakes to give your post-workout meal a personal touch.

    As far as specific recommendations go, studies indicate that around 0.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is the minimum needed to get the optimal muscle-building effect. Even if your goal isn’t building muscle, this minimum recommendation is still important when it comes to maintaining your muscle mass and helping your muscles recover from grueling workouts.

    Recovery is key to your ability to perform over the long haul. And protein is a big factor in your ability to recover successfully - whether your goals are building muscle or not.

    Final Thoughts

    Whew - that was a lot of data to throw at you. Now, let’s recap all of those tips, thoughts, and recommendations, as well as provide a few extra tips::

    • Consider the nutrient timing window (3-4 hours for smaller meals or 5-6 hours with big meals) as more of an upper limit. If you want to eat immediately before and after your workout, there’s nothing stopping you.
    • Find what works for you. If you prefer to take your workout nutrition on-the-go, make sure your shakes, bars, and other supplements are hitting the necessary protein amounts. If you have time for a sit-down meal, try to incorporate more whole foods alongside your supplements.
    • The 0.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight should be taken as a daily minimum. If you’re looking for bigger gains - or if you missed out on protein in your earlier meals - bump that number up as needed.
    • Pre-workout, don’t eat “heavy” foods. Your stomach will thank you when you’re banging out heavy sets. Save these foods for your post-workout recovery meal. Trust me… you don’t want to find yourself in a bind at the bottom of a squat!
    • Finally, if you work out with a friend, get them on board with your pre- and post-workout nutrition plan. Having someone else on the same page when it comes to nutrition will make a big difference in your ability to stick to your plan.

    Pre- and post-workout nutrition can be that “x-factor” that, if you get them right, pushes you into gains and results you never expected. Still, it’s nothing without a solid workout plan, so don’t skimp on your workouts and expect your nutrition plan to pick up the slack.

    Ultimately, it’s a synergistic relationship that depends on your fitness and nutrition working in harmony. Use these tips and recommendations to push you ahead, enhancing your workouts to get awesome, exciting gains.

    Did you learn anything new from these recommendations? Do you have strategies of your own that weren’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below!


    Images: Flickr, Pixabay, Pixabay, Pixabay




    Advanced (trying to qualify for Regionals):

    T2B: 8/7 or 5/5/5. Rich Froning broke in the 3rd and Fraser’s T2B fell apart in the end after starting unbroken. So unless you are an Olympic gymnast or have abs of steel, I suggest breaking up from the start. The breaks should be no more than dropping and jumping back up.

    DL: Unbroken. Use a mixed grip. Split second pause on reps 6-10 at the top to breathe deeply. Drop the 10th rep to set up for Snatch.

    Snatch: Unbroken. If you are comfortable move your grip in slightly, this will give you a better grip on the bar and help to save some strength for the next round of T2B. Split second pause at the top of each rep to breathe deeply and relax grip.

    Chalk breaks should only be taken before the start of each round. You don’t have time for multiple chalk breaks every round. Wear sweat bands or Strength Wraps to help prevent sweat from getting on your palms. Approach each round as its own workout and use the walk from the barbell to the T2B to recover.

    Beginner and Scaled:

    T2B: 5/5/5 or less from the start. DO NOT TRY AND GO UNBROKEN OR BIG SETS EARLY.

    DL: 5/5 or fast singles using a mixed grip. Reps 6-10 pausing for a split second to breathe deeply.

    Snatch: Singles. Move grip in slightly to preserve grip strength. Deep breath between reps.

    There is not a lot that goes into a workout this short. It all comes down to how long you can hang on the bar and keep moving.


    All Athletes:

    This will be lower than you think. Get a number on the board and build. One error I think the athletes made tonight was unloading the 115 to build to their opener. Keep 115 on the bar and build on top of it. Have a friend or a good judge who will help you do the math since you going to have foggy brain after 15.1.

    Clean: Pick up the bar.

    Jerk: Move the bar overhead.

    Hope everyone has a safe Open and most importantly has fun.


  • Reaper Outdoors Premier

    Kill Cliff presents Reaper Outdoors: Survive the Hunt which premieres on The Sportsman Channel at 7:00 p.m. ET (6:00 p.m. CST) on December 30, 2014. This isn’t your typical hunting show.

    photo (1)

    “We aren’t sitting in tree stands for hours waiting for some animal to walk by,” explains show producer and hunter Dan “Reaper-02” Datish. “This is a show about actively tracking game using the tactics we have all learned in the military and also how to survive based on what we have around us.”

    For Datish, and the other members of Survive the Hunt (Ron “Reaper-01” Bellan and Jon “Reaper-03” Bellan), this program can take your hunting experience to the next level.

    “People have to train for what we do. We could be hunting anything: deer, elk, pig, whatever. We use high level military gear and weapons.”

    Datish and the others provide a blueprint for other hunters to learn to survive off the land, find food, track game and make shelters out of available materials.

    “With the popularity of things like CrossFit, we’ve seen more and more people who want to try to hunt their own food,” says Datish. “We like to do it our way. We used the things we learned, our military tactics, and actively hunt our game. If we come across some food, we can show the viewers how to find it and what is safe to eat. Sometimes we hunt for days so we need shelters and we show people who watch the show how to make that too. We’ll give you a no bullshit way to start a fire and stuff like that.”

    The military background and focus on living off the land is what Datish believes separates his show from being both a “traditional” hunting show, but it doesn’t exactly fit the survival show domain either.

    “Some of those shows can be extreme. Most regular hunters are never going to be in those types of places. For us, each hunt is different. We either walk in, jump in (from a plane or helicopter) or swim in. But once we’re there, we’re going to work as a team and survive on our own based on our training and teamwork,” says Datish.

    Find out more about taking your hunting game to the next level and catch Datish and the rest of his team on Reaper Outdoors: Survive the Hunt presented by Kill Cliff.

  • The 2015 Open: Critiquing the Critics

    The Open is changing and—surprise, surprise—there are critics already.

    There’s a saying we use at my affiliate that goes like this: “Sometimes what’s good for business isn’t what’s good for fitness.” It mostly has to do with the vocal minority who is always pushing for “more grinders, more grinders” at the expense of other important aspects of fitness, like strength and skill work.

    But in the case of the changes to the 2015 Open, I believe it’s the right call for both fitness and business. The critics will soon be quieted, the same way they were in 2011 when CrossFit eliminated Sectional competitions. People lost their shit. But just a short time later, they embraced the online Open competition.

    Since 2011, selection to the CrossFit Games has largely remained the same. Until now: Combined regions.

    The moment the post-CrossFit Invitational video was released, where Dave Castro gave some vague details about this year’s plan, people in my region got up in arms.

    “We’re losing our Canadian-ism” was the general jist of the sentiment. Others made the argument that we are a large geographical region–that this should somehow protect our autonomy in terms of being our own region.

    I understand and sympathize with the sentiment, and my first reaction, too, was “Nooooooooo.” But when I sat back and thought rationally about it, I came to conclusion that we don’t have a valid complaint. Canada West will be combined with the North West Region, and according to my (I like to think) careful calculations, we’re the two weakest regions in North America.

    In 2014, I was second at the Canada West Regional. Considering there are four weeks between the first and last weekend of regionals, it’s not 100 percent accurate to compare scores; however, comparisons still expose who the strong and weaker regions are. And when I plugged my scores into every other region in the world, I was humbled. My results would have ranked me 10th in Southern California. 12th in Canada East. 14th in the Norheast. And as low as 17th in Europe.

    Second in Canada West and 17th in Europe. Can you blame them for mixing things up this year?


    The North West Region was the only other region in North America where, I believe, on a perfect day of competing, I could have stood a remote chance at qualification. I would have been 7th with my scores from the Canada West regional competitions, which was just one week before the event in Kent, Washington.

    So with five berths on the line this year, I personally want to give Castro a giant hug for combining our region with the North West.

    Jeremy Jones, owner of CrossFit Diablo and Alessandra Pichelli’s personal coach, also believes that what we know so far about the changes this year makes sense—on all accounts. It is the right move as a sport, as Jones believes it will balance out some of the regions. And, it makes sense from a business standpoint “because there will be less stress on the Games crew to put on as many events, saving money and allowing more resources for even better events,” Jones said.

    Funny enough, financial savings is one of the reasons people are bitching on online forums. “They’re just doing this to save money. This is bullshit,” was one of the main themes on comment threads after the announcement.

    I personally don’t think money was the driving force behind this decision, but even if saving money was an added bonus to push for change, so what? We’re not talking about the government cutting social welfare programs here. CrossFit is business operating in the free market. Saving money is one of the things a successful businesses is supposed to do. To be critical of that is absurd.

    But more than financial savings, Jones reiterated his belief that the changes are also best for fitness—that they will get the best people to the Games.

    “There always seemed to be a few regions that had someone make the Games because the programming was “perfect” for (that one person)…,” he said. “Combining the regions should help in those cases.”

    The other cause for complaint and concern is the distinction between people who consider themselves “Open athletes” versus “Regionals athletes.” This argument has definitely crossed my mind on a personal level. I have always done better at Regionals than in the Open, especially when events like 7-minutes of burpees are programmed.

    That being said, as has often been said, the best athletes will still prevail. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and Sam Briggs are Open athletes. They’re also Regionals athletes. And, of course, they’re Games athletes. Jones agrees and takes it one step further.

    “If programmed correctly, the Open has the ability to be programmed for the absolute beginner and the most advanced CrossFit athlete,” he said, adding that he doesn’t expect programming to be much different this year than in past years. That being said, he does expect a slightly higher level workout or two this year, especially considering the fact that there’s a scaled division.

    Despite this fact, Jones is making sure his athletes are even more ready than usual to get through the Open.

    “We are going to make sure that people who are Regional and Games-bound are a bit more prepares for the open. We want to make sure that those metabolic fires are stoked and red hot for the Open, as opposed to smouldering slowly to temper the other strengths and skills,” he said.

    “There are a few Games-level athletes that I work with who still may be able to make the Open a bit of a side note to their general program. But for many of our athletes, the Open is going to require a deviation from the way we might have programmed in the past—a large detour for some, a small one for others,” he added.

    The biggest change he expects we’ll see is even more athletes forgoing their individual aspirations to join a team. “The level of team competition may get a whole lot tougher,” he said.

    But finances and competition aside, perhaps the hidden brilliance of this new selection process—and something I haven’t read much discussion about—is what the system will do for affiliate pride.

    Since we’re still going to be competing against our smaller regions during the Open competition, we’ll maintain our smaller territorial regional identity. And I believe this regional pride will be strengthened under the new format.

    When the regional competitions arrive, friendly rivalries will likely develop between the two combined regions, with fans on both sides cheering for what they see as “their” athletes. I can picture a sea of proud red and white Canada West gear at this year’s regionals supporting our athletes against our American competitor’s—a beautiful sight for the sport.

  • Meet your new favorite dessert (any guesses?)

    What’s your favorite dessert? Does it have around 20 grams of protein and only 3 net carbs? It does now. Kill Cliff, the maker of the most awesome sports recovery drinks out there, is ready to showcase its next big venture: a premium line of protein bars. Available in three awesome flavors, the KC Bar combines great taste and loads of quality protein into one small package. Function meets flavor. Finally.

    Whether you reach for a fruity Strawberries & Cream (made with real fruit), a tantalizingly tasty Salted Caramel & Almond (which has actual almonds) or a delicious Chocolate Chip Cookie (using cocoa powder) you’ll get a great source of protein. Each bar is gluten free, sugar free and has no artificial colors or preservatives. Short version: The #kcbar is packed with awesomeness and impossibly tasty.

    Here’s what a few Kill Cliff athletes had to say about the new KC Bars:

    “Salted Caramel is the best one. Tastes amazing and doesn't taste like it's good for me... which I like." - Josh "ChaChi" Marunde, drummer for Pop Evil

    "My favorite KC Bar is surprisingly the Strawberry. And I normally don't like strawberry flavored things, but it has an enticingly sweet aftertaste with little strawberry chunks in it!" - Cole Sager, 2014 CrossFit Games athlete

    “The Chocolate Chip is the best. It has the best taste and best consistency. The chocolate chips in it lights my fire.” - Daniel Tymniski, two-time CrossFit Games athlete

    “I like the Salted Caramel one and the Strawberry. They don’t taste strong like some other bars and fake and sugary like some other bars. Very tasty for the amount of protein and decreased carbs.” - Talayna Fortunato, Physical Therapist and CrossFit Games athlete

    The KC Bar is officially available at and Vitamin Shoppe.

    By James Toland contributing editor

  • Day One Wrap-up Granite Games

    Friday afternoon at the 2014 Granite Games in St. Cloud, Minnesota got off to a great start with an impressive group of Kill Cliff athletes tackling the always popular “Snatch Ladder” event.

    On the Men’s Elite side, Kill Cliff athletes Elijah “EZ” Muhammad and Mat Fraser got things moving as they tore through the event one. After posting an online video last week snatching 315 lb., it was no surprise that Fraser, a former Olympic weightlifter hopeful, took first place in the opening event with a 305lb. lift in a time of 5:16. Although four men hit the same weight as Fraser, he was able to take home the win by completing it in a faster time. Just as impressive was Muhammad who completed the rep of 295 lb. but did so at a blistering pace of 4:06 good enough for fifth place.

    In the evening, both men took on the formidable “Deadly Ropes” event which consisted of five rounds of two rope climbs, four deadlifts at 365 lb. and eight burpees over the bar. Just as he did at Regionals this year, Muhammad flew through the rope climbs but Fraser’s consistent pace throughout allowed him hang on to second place overall at the end of day one as he finished fifth in this event. Slowed slightly by the deadlifts and burpees, Muhammad took a seventh place result on the “Ropes” but moved up to end day one fourth in the standings.

    The Kill Cliff ladies were also in action today with Brooke Ence Sawyers, Stacie Tovar and Grace Dresher throwing around some serious weight in their own “Snatch Ladder” competition. Sawyers flew through the ladder notching a 185 lb. lift while posting a scorching time of 4:05 to take the win in the first event of the Granite Games. Although Dresher and Tovar both were able to hoist 180 lb. (a PR for Tovar) neither could put up as much weight as Sawyers or do it as quickly. After event one, Dresher sat in fourth with a time of 2:31 while Tovar followed in seventh with a time of 6:39.

    After a presentation of the American flag and a singing of the National Anthem, the Women’s Elite athletes set off for event two. Just as the men did, the ladies hustled through the “Deadly Ropes” event which also consisted of five rounds of rope climbs, deadlifts at 240lb. and burpees over the bar. The final heat was loaded with some of the fittest women around in the realm of competitive fitness who turned a ten minute time cap into a five minute workout. Tovar got off to a great start but after some confusion from her judge with a rep count, fell off the lead pace a bit. Sawyers brought home another solid result finishing in sixth place with a time of 6:07. The result kept her in the overall lead for the first day while Tovar headed home sitting comfortably in fourth, closely trailed by Dresher in fifth.

  • Valerie Voboril - Mom, Teacher, Games' Athlete

    The growing trend among athletes who qualify for the CrossFit Games is towards a more professional lifestyle in which they dedicate a bulk of their time to training, diet and prep. Some in the community would argue that the age of the part time CrossFit athlete who can still make an impact on the podium at the Games is over.

    Valorie Voboril might have something to say about that.

    This 36 year old “supermom” has not only qualified for five of the last six CrossFit Games (she missed 2011 when she was pregnant with her daughter) but she has excelled finishing in third in 2013 and fifth in last summer’s Games.

    Now, as she enters her 12th year as a teacher at Richmond Street Elementary in El Segundo, CA, Kill Cliff recently sat down for a quick Q and A session with Voboril to find out how she juggles being a mom, elementary teacher, wife and kick ass CrossFItter.

    What do you love about teaching?
    It's such a joy to watch the enthusiasm of students learning and discovering. I love their curiosity and thirst for knowledge. I also love that I get to learn something new everyday I come to work.

    How did you get into CrossFit (being that you teach elementary school)?
    Being a teacher I would really use my summers to explore different activities looking for my newest fitness fad (mountain biking, aerial fabric, krav maga, sprint triathlons). The summer of 2008 I had the opportunity to try CrossFit. I quickly got hooked. I didn’t expect it to last so long.

    How do you balance teaching, being a mom and CrossFit especially when it comes to the Open, Regional and Games prep?
    I have a tight schedule. I have the support of my family, and I have my coaches which helps me to stay balance and be prepared for the Open, Regionals and Games. I teach from 7:30 am -3:30 pm. I train from 3:45 am - 5:00 pm. Spend time with my family from 5:00 pm - 9:00 pm. I do my work at home from 9:00 pm - 10:00 pm. Finally I get sleep after that.

    With all of the things you have going on, what is your happy place?
    Reading books in bed to my daughter. I love the quiet, peaceful time of sharing a good book, then talking about our favorite activities from the day and looking forward to the adventures that tomorrow brings.

    At the Games, what is your motivation?
    I am motivated by my daughter, my students and my family. I want to be the best me I can be and be a role model for those around me.

    What role does your family play in your career (CrossFit)?
    My family is my biggest support system. They encourage me, motivate me, challenge me and allow me to pursue this amazing sport.

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